David's Performance and Training Corner
With David Salthouse from APC, Inc.
Associate Director of Training & Program Development
Understanding Holsters

If you have carried a gun for any amount of time, I bet we have a couple of things in common. We both have spent a lot of money searching for the perfect holster, and we both have a bin or box filled with holsters that didn’t fit the bill. I was looking at my bin when the idea for this article slapped me in the face. So let’s take some time and talk about holsters.

Before we talk about material, let’s talk about position.

Where and how are you going to carry your firearm? The preferred method, in my opinion, is strong side carry and in a straight drop or mild cant holster. I prefer this for many reasons.

First, it most closely resembles how I carry my firearm at work. I have been trained to find my firearm on my strong side, as a reflex, a result of muscle memory and in a high stress situation, that is where my hand goes, like it or not.

Second is retention, it is much easier to keep your firearm in its holster with your strong hand using basic retention techniques.

The third is safety. We can draw our firearm, address a threat and place my firearm back in my holster without muzzling my body, or anyone else. I can also do it with one had, which we will talk about later.

There are other methods of carry such as shoulder holsters, small of the back, & cross draw.
There are issues with each one of these. It is near impossible to put your firearm back into a shoulder holster with one hand, and you end up muzzling everyone behind you.

Small of the back holsters do not make much sense for several reasons. One being how comfortable are you when sitting in you is car? What do you do when you can’t get to it? Not to mention the potential back injury you could receive if you fell and hit your firearm into your spine. But the biggest issue is that it is the easiest place for someone coming up behind you, if you are not completely aware of your surroundings and someone taking it from you, because you have less control.

Cross draw holsters work well in automobile seats, but when you are standing in a responsive position, your firearm is within reach to your adversary.  So now that it is settled, that strong side carry is most suitable for defensive carry, lets talk about fit and quality.

When I say quality holster, what do you think about?

First off the holster should be sturdy; it does you no good if someone is able to rip the firearm off of your side. The holster should be well constructed and attached firmly to your pants via belt loops or in some cases a paddle. The holster should cover the trigger guard completely, yet allow you to get a firing grip on the firearm while it is in the holster. The holster should remain stiff and retain its shape when the firearm is out, this will allow you to re-holster with one hand. Using two hands is unsafe because you are likely to muzzle your hand, and you leave yourself with out a support hand to respond to a threat.

A secondary but important feature of a holster is that it protects your firearms from being banged up in daily carry. Make sure the holster covers the entire slide and barrel, an open bottom is fine, but I try to avoid having the tip of the slide showing. This also comes in handy should your cover garment shift or rise up a little. A passer by will only see a little material, not cold steel.

All right, we are moving along, next we will tackle an issue most people don’t even thing about, belts.

How many people have gone out and spend $400 to $900 on a carry gun, $70 on a holster and strapped it to there body with a $6 belt. Your chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link. In that scenario, the belt is the weakest link.

There are two important factors to keep in mind, size & stiffness. You want your belt width to match the width of your belt loops. This will reduce movement and wobble. The belt should also be stiff enough to support the weight of a firearm and in some cases other equipment, magazines, lights, etc. Many manufacturers make belts with stiff polymer inserts to keep them rigid and keep your firearm tight and close to your body. These belts are available in many colors and designs to fit your style. You can find them through holster companies and tactical equipment retailers like 5.11 tactical.

Now that we have addressed the belt issue, lets talk about retention.

Holsters are rated with retention levels. Levels 1 through 3 are commonly available in concealment holsters. The level number refers to how many retention devices are on the holster, such as retention screws, trigger guard traps, thumb straps, etc. Most people have the belief that the higher the retention number, the more time it takes to get the firearm out. The real world answer is that it takes more training and practice, but once you are proficient, you can remove the firearm very fast.

I wouldn’t use a holster that did not offer at least a level 1-retention rating. Your choice will have a lot to do with what you do when you are carrying your firearm. If I was a Bail Enforcement Agent and may be struggling with suspects, I would go for a triple retention, or if I were around other people in close quarters I would use a level 2. Whatever level you choose, practice drawing often as it takes a minimum of 500 perfect draws to build muscle memory.

Now it is time to talk about the most controversial topic related to holsters. What should they be made of?

Well the answer has more to do with personal preference then anything else. Holsters are made from too many materials to mention. The two most common and what I feel are most appropriate are cowhide leather, or kydex. Given that leather is clearly the senior of the two, we will discuss that first.

 Leather holsters are often molded to the specific firearms. They are available in a few colors and are typically very stiff. The benefits are that leather conceals very well and is very natural looking. It also tends to flex which can sometime be more comfortable to the wearer. The downside is that leather often needs to be broken in like a baseball glove and in the process can squeak when you move. As with anything that needs to be broken in, they also where out. A leather holster should be replaced once it looses its stiff retention and upright stance.

The relative newcomer, kydex has taken the holster industry by storm. Kydex is a thin plastic like material that is heat molded to your firearm. It offers excellent value, requires no break in, does not wear like leather and protects the firearms from scratches and moisture. The downside is that they are a little more bulky and tend to “print” a little more then leather and you have to be a little more careful to make sure you are getting a quality product, not the $15 special.

The next issue would be inside the waistband or out?

I prefer to carry an outside the waistband (OWB) holster solely for comfort. Sometimes, when you need to be more discreet, an inside the waistband holster (IWB) is in order. It is fine to switch between the two as they keep the gun in the same place. The one thing to remember is that the holster needs to stay open when the firearm is out, so you can re-holster it quickly. The method in which it is secured to the belt needs to be strong. Those steel clips are sure to fail and you will end up with you gun out, but still in its holster.

What about brands?

There are many quality holster manufactures out there. Shop around and find the specific model & style that fits your needs and budget. Don’t walk into the gun shop and settle for the one they had that fit the gun. Think about all we have talked about in this article and apply it to your daily carry habits. Ask friends, especially those friends with big boxes of holsters, they can tell you what worked for them, and more importantly what didn’t.

Good luck in the search and please come by the range and show me if you find the perfect holster, I would love to finally see the giant catfish!

Be safe and remember, Failing to Train is Training to Fail!
Email David at with comments, questions, or topics you would like him to cover in a future article.